PALMDALE – Ryan Gifford’s injury temporarily shelved his passion and created another. The Highland of Palmdale wrestler’s junior season abruptly ended during practice a day before last year’s Southern Section individual tournament with a knee injury. Gifford was already bothered by a slight knee injury from his sophomore season, in which he reached the CIF tournament but didn’t finish. He said he had felt the knee pop out in the past, but was able to fix it. Not this time. “I was (ticked) off, I can’t even explain it,” Gifford said. “I’ve never had a full tournament of CIF individuals and I never had the chance to see how far I can actually go.” Despite putting an end to his season goals and the sport he loves on ice, the injury led to Gifford’s interest in wanting to become an orthopedic surgeon. Gifford, a 160-pound-category Golden League runner-up for the Bulldogs, has developed an itch to learn about surgical and rehabilitation procedures after completing his recovery during the offseason. Instead of competing for a berth in the Master’s meet, Gifford spent the next day on a hospital bed after undergoing surgery to repair torn ligaments in his right knee. “I was wrestling a coach from Littlerock High School and I went to do a move, he grabbed my leg and I just felt my knee go completely out,” Gifford said. “It came out of place and it wouldn’t pop back into place.” “I’ve always wanted to be a doctor,” Gifford said. “But I wasn’t sure in what field.” The senior wrestler continues to study the subject. Gifford wrote about his experience and about witnessing live surgeries at Antelope Valley Hospital for a class project. He has stood next to doctors during two orthopedic surgeries since his injury. Gifford’s plans include attending medical school at the University of Utah after graduating from BYU. But before that, he will serve on a two-year mission as part of his Mormon faith. Gifford is not sure where his mission will take him, but before leaving he plans to attend Antelope Valley College for one semester. “To tell you the truth, my future in wrestling, I can say I don’t want to pursue it that much,” Gifford said. “Maybe if there’s a perfect opportunity I might take hold of it.” With a recovered knee and his first full healthy season, Gifford’s first priority is helping the host Bulldogs win today’s 11 a.m. Div. V dual meet championship. Coach Michael Young’s team will take on Peninsula of Rolling Hills Estates in first-round competition. Young will then begin to think about the Northern Division individual championship tournament Feb.16 and 17 at Pacifica High in Oxnard. Highland, which earned a berth in the Section championship after clinching its 13th league title in 15years, was eliminated by eventual champion Royal of Simi Valley in the quarterfinals last season. Young said Gifford will be an integral part to winning, with his 38-12 record that includes 25 pins. He had twokey pins in a first-round win against Kaiser of Fontana in last year’s dual meet championship. “Ryan is a very intense workman-like kid,” Young said. “He starts a job and he gets to it. He’s the type of kid you want to have on your side in a tough situation.” Gifford has earned his teammates and opponents’ respect for being a leader and for his work ethic on and off the mat. “(Gifford) is a tough kid,” said Trevor Leach, coach of Quartz Hill, which takes on Canyon Springs of San Bernardino in the first round of today’s dual meet tournament. “He’s in a good position to scare other wrestlers. He’s helped my kids be able to handle good wrestlers like him after facing him.” Teammates such as Mike Larkin, the Bulldogs’ 152-pound division league champion, and Chad Ellis, the 189-pound champion, took notice of Gifford’s toughness and integrity while rehabbing his knee. “Ryan and I use each other to get better,” said Larkin, who has the team’s best record at 40-12. “He’s my rival on the mat in practice. “He’s a tough guy. Even with his knee hurt I would find him lifting weights. Just having that one person that has me always thinking of another way to take him down has done nothing but helped me improve my game.” Ellis, a junior, wants to take on a leadership role next season, same as Gifford has done this year. Gifford credits much of his work ethic and leadership ability to former Highland standout and friend Steve Frehn, a wrestler at Stanford. Frehn was the school’s first Section titlist in seven years when he took the 145-pound championship in 2005. “(Frehn) is definitely the cornerstone of my career,” Gifford said. “He’s the one that made it all happen for me. Since he once told me he wrestled everyone as if he was wrestling a champion, I do the same.” Gifford also learned to trust his instinct and regain confidence in his knee from Frehn. “I’d go into every single match thinking my knee might pop out again,” Gifford said. “I had to fight through that. Halfway throughout the season I felt more comfortable, more secure about my knee. It’s actually now the strongest knee.” [email protected] (818) 713-3607 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!